Risk of psychological distress among recently arrived humanitarian migrants

Refugees Refugee settlement Mental health Mental health promotion

Many humanitarian migrants have experienced torture and trauma prior to arrival in Australia and these experiences can have serious long-term mental health impacts.

Drawing on longitudinal data from the 'Building a New Life in Australia' study, this paper explores humanitarian migrants' levels of psychological distress shortly after arrival in Australia and whether it changes over the first three years of settlement. It compares number of traumatic events experienced prior to arrival, proportion reporting moderate or high psychological distress, and experiences of discrimination after arrival, as well as gender and age differences.

Key messages:

  • Recently arrived humanitarian migrants had a risk of psychological distress at much higher rates than the general Australian population. Between 31 and 46% were classified as having moderate or high risk of psychological distress in the first three waves of the study. For the Australian population, 7% of men and 11% of women had these levels of difficulties.
  • For some study participants, risk of psychological distress persisted over time, with 16% of the sample being classified at moderate or high risk of psychological distress at each of the first three waves of data collection.
  • Differences were found by gender and age, with women having greater levels of psychological distress (between 39 and 46% classified as moderate or high risk across waves) compared to men (31–39%). Older participants were also more often at moderate or high risk of psychological distress compared to younger migrants.
  • A higher proportion of those reporting to have experienced discrimination was classified as having moderate or high psychological distress compared to those that did not experience discrimination.
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